Vivid, Smartly Intense, Individualistic Art-Rock from Singer-Pianist Joanna Wallfisch

by delarue

Singer/pianist Joanna Wallfisch has a refreshingly smart, darkly individualistic new album, The Origin of Adjustable Things, a duo recording with pianist Dan Tepfer, due out soon and an album release show on March 24 at 8 PM at Subculture. Advance tix are $15. Because it’s not out yet, the album isn’t up at the usual places, although there are a few tracks at Soundcloud and at Sunnyside Records‘ site.

Wallfisch likes waltzes; she has a serious edge; she defies categorization. Art-rock serves as a foundation for her songwriting, although there are echoes of jazz, cabaret, minimalism and classical art-song in her terse, plaintively lyrical tunesmithing. Her voice is strong, clear and unaffected: on the album, she prefers nuance to high-voltage theatrics, although she can really wail when she wants to. Among current New York artists, Carol Lipnik (the gold standard for this decade), Serena Jost and Karen Mantler are good comparisons. The new album, Wallfisch’s second, is solid all the way through, one of the year’s ten best so far: it portends great things for the British expat relocated to this city. One wonders how she found an affordable apartment.

Wallfisch playfully intersperses jazzy scatting within Tepfer’s steady, baroque-tinged lines on the opening track, This Is How You Make Me Feel, a sardonic look at both extremes of an intense relationship. The first of the waltzes, Satin Grey, paints an indelible picture from multiple perspectives: girl caught in a camera flash but otherwise not, Wallfisch’s hidden narrator watching the scene unwind with an  understated fatalism.

Satellite, another terse waltz, works its way to an ominously surprising ending, a cautionary tale for tech-obsessed futurists. Wallfisch’s cover of doomed junkie songwriter Tim Buckley’s Song to a Siren offers a minimalist take on McCartneyesque balladry. By contrast, her low-key take of Radiohead’s Creep underscores the song’s menace, channeling an untypical femme fatale.

Time Doesn’t Play Fair delivers a regret-laden angst over Tepfer’s Asian-tinged, resonant Fender Rhodes piano lines. The stark, brooding waltz Anonymous Journeys might or might not be about a pedestrian murdered by a car – in NYC that’s how it happens in 2015. A license to drive is a license to kill, and all the yuppies and their hired-gun drivers who kill pedestrians are never charged. After all, that would raise the crime rate – and who wants that, when there are luxury condos for sale?

Wallfisch plays piano against Tepfer’s organ on the playfully vaudeville-tinged Brighton Beach: it’s a slightly less ominous counterpart to Matt Keating’s 1913 Coney Island. She follows the opaque title track with a wispy, creepy noir cabaret take on the jazz standard Wild Is the Wind, then the similarly uneasy Rational Thought and its offcenter harmonies, then closes the album with a low-key version of another standard, Never Let Me Go. Walllfisch brings serious chops and a welcome individualism to these songs and these parts: let’s hope she sticks around awhile.